A gas drilling rig sits in an area of southeastern Utah managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

A gas drilling rig sits in an area of southeastern Utah managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

(Photo: Richer Images/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)

200+ Groups to Congress: Stop 'Zombie' Funding for Fossil Fuels on Public Lands

"It's past time our leaders take this simple step and stop funding activities that are completely at odds with protecting our climate," one advocate said.

More than 200 environmental and climate advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday demanding that lawmakers stop funding the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands and waters.

The letter argues that Congress' annual approval of taxpayer funds to subsidize oil and gas drilling and coal mining "undermine" the international agreement reached at the United Nations COP28 climate conference last year on the need for "transitioning away from fossil fuels."

"Congress has coddled the fossil fuel industry for decades, scarring millions of acres of public lands in the process," Ashley Nunes, public lands policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "It's past time our leaders take this simple step and stop funding activities that are completely at odds with protecting our climate."

"Every year that Congress keeps supporting status quo drilling on public lands and offshore waters is a missed opportunity that locks us into a hotter and more dangerous future."

The Center for Biological Diversity was one of 234 groups behind the letter, which was addressed to Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Appropriations Vice Chair Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), House Appropriations Chair Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and House Appropriations Ranking Member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). Specifically, the letter asks that the lawmakers "zero out funding for all fossil fuel extraction on public lands and offshore waters" in the Department of the Interior's budget for the coming fiscal year.

"Despite the urgency of the climate crisis, year after year, and regardless of the which political party retains control of Congress, Congress continues to direct the Department of the Interior to authorize fossil fuel extraction on our public lands and oceans," the letter states. "This zombie funding continues despite its harmful and lasting impacts to tribal nations, frontline communities, and other groups, as well as its harm to public health, public lands, the climate, and wildlife populations."

The FY 2024 budget, for example, directed more than $160 million toward fossil fuel management on public lands and waters. The amount earmarked for oil and gas management on public lands alone jumped by almost 90% from 2016 to 2023, from $59.7 million to $112.9 million.

Despite calling the climate crisis an "existential threat," U.S. President Joe Biden has approved almost 10,000 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in three years, a similar rate to his predecessors and more in his first two years than former President Donald Trump. Under Biden's watch, the U.S. became the leading producer of oil both in the world and in human history. The groups who signed the letter attributed this in part to Congress' "status quo funding" of fossil fuel programs on public lands.

The letter comes as humanity just sweltered through its hottest year on record, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels made a record jump, and a vast majority of top climate scientists recently surveyed said they predicted 2.5°C of warming by 2100, largely because of a lack of "political will" to phase out fossil fuels and embrace the renewable energy transition.

Indeed, the latest Production Gap analysis concludes that governments' plans through 2030 would produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels that would be compatible with limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

"Climate scientists around the world are pleading for change, but Congress continues to let fossil fuel polluters run wild on our public lands," Nunes said. "Every year that Congress keeps supporting status quo drilling on public lands and offshore waters is a missed opportunity that locks us into a hotter and more dangerous future."

In particular, the green groups made the following recommendations for FY2025:

  1. Ending Bureau of Land Management (BLM) funding for new oil and gas approvals;
  2. Ending BLM funding for new coal leases and permits;
  3. Ending Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) funding for all new oil and gas exploration, production, and drilling leases;
  4. Ending the provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that requires Interior to put up at least 2 million acres of land and 60 million of water annually for oil and gas leasing before it can install any new wind and solar;
  5. Putting $80 million toward BLM renewable energy programs; and
  6. Putting $80 million toward BOEM renewable energy programs.

"Congress must end business as usual funding of fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters," the letter concludes. "If Congress fails to change course, it will simply be impossible to limit warming to below 1.5°C and ensure a livable planet for future generations."

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